M.C. Bishop, Roman Plate Armour (Osprey, 2022)
Pardon my ignorance, but I approached M.C. Bishop’s Roman Plate Armour with some scepticism: sixty pages on pointing out the obvious on something any casual observer of the Roman army would know about surely awaited. I was wrong! There is more to this iconic metal, personal defence system than meets the eye in this engaging and wonderfully illustrated little book.
Bishop opens with the often fallacious efforts to reconstruct Roman armour from Trajan’s Column in Rome. Therefore, much of what we thought we knew, we didn’t really, but that has now been rectified by archaeological finds in recent years. Bishop continues with a survey of armour from the Regal period, through the Republican era, and then into the Imperial period where we encounter the most famous of all Roman armour: the lorica segmentata with its familiar bands of metal attached at the back. Here too, however, there are variations in the segmentata, and Bishop walks us through the different types over three chapters. The first is the Kalkriese-type discovered as recently as 2018. Bishop describes the armour and its history, and he follows that method for the Corbridge-type and the Newstead-type. Bishop moves onto other forms of Roman plate armour, which are the hybrid forms; articulated armguards; muscled cuirasses worn by officers; greaves, worn singly on the leg advanced to the enemy; and chamfrons used to protect horses’ heads. How the Romans manufactured, decorated, and maintained their plate armour is our next destination, while the vital question of how this armour was used rounds off Bishop’s survey. He closes by returning to the continuing influence of Trajan’s Column on the legacy of Roman plate armour.
I won’t make any claims that Roman Plate Armour is a riveting read, but it is more interesting than the plain title promises. Bishop explains the nuances of this armour clearly, without disappearing into technical jargon, and his text is accompanied by Osprey’s usual excellent artwork, mostly showing the armour as worn in combat. There are also many photographs of archaeological finds and reconstructions based on them. Students of the Roman army, keen to delve a wee bit deeper into the armour Roman soldiers wore, will get a lot out of Bishop’s book, but even those with a casual interest will find some surprises while enhancing their knowledge and dispelling some myths.